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Archive for the ‘Always Serving’ Category

Military Child of the Year Recipients

Clockwise from left to right: Isabelle Richards, Campbell Miller, Eve Glenn, Elisabeth Lundgren, Shelby Barber, Brandon Mammano.

As the deadline nears to nominate outstanding military teens for Operation Homefront’s 2020 Military Child of the Year (MCOY) Awards, past winners tell us what being a Military Child of the Year has meant for them. Their work and their stories are amazing! Here, six previous recipients reflect on the impact of the awards on their lives:

Isabelle Richards, 2018 Military Child of the Year, Navy

Since being Named the Navy MCOY in 2018, my ability to help inspire change in others has accelerated. I am a grassroots girl who previously helped wounded warriors in a few states. Currently, I am proud to say I serve wounded warriors , healing heroes and veterans in 45 states!

Operation Homefront’s award put what I do on an entirely different networking level. This past year I made or had delivered almost 11,000 cupcakes and cards to those service members and veterans. That is almost 11,000 service members and veterans who know they are still cared about and honored!

Thank you, Operation Homefront, for changing the trajectory of what impact I could have!

Campbell Miller, 2019 Military Child of the Year, National Guard

I am blessed and honored just to have been nominated in the past, but especially to have been chosen. The friendships that I created with the other winners while together have lasted and have been very impactful. We still encourage one another, talk to each other about significant life events, and sometimes just laugh together.

I am grateful for the opportunities that have come from receiving the award and I am excited for the recipients of 2020.

Eve Glenn, 2018 Military Child of the Year, Air Force

Selection as a MCOY finalist gave me the platform to honor my father, who at the time was a in the United States Air Force. Now, I continue to partner with Operation Homefront during the academic year and summer to promote the MCOY award and work on supplementary projects within the nonprofit.

Recognition from Operation Homefront and the MCOY empowered me to advocate for military populations in college and beyond.

Elisabeth Lundgren, 2019 Military Child of the Year, Navy

Winning MCOY was surreal. It was amazing to see how many people I could inspire just by being myself.

Winning was an amazing way to show my dad that my success didn’t suffer just because he missed out on big parts of my life. My success in swimming and in the classroom happened not in spite of my dad’s service but because of my dad’s service.

Shelby Barber, 2018 Military Child of the Year, Innovation

Winning MCOY has connected me to so many people who understand how I feel. I have a better understanding of Operation Homefront and other programs out there to help military families, which also allows me to inform other military families about these programs that can relieve so much pressure from hard situations. Winning the innovation award helped my higher education advance as I have clear goals and good starting points.

Brandon Mammano, 2019 Military Child of the Year, Innovation

I definitely have been very blessed to have won this award because it has given me the opportunity to work with Booz Allen Hamilton and see how they function as this gigantic consulting firm and how they break down all these processes to get a job done. It’s a well-oiled machine. It’s breath-taking to see that.

Having so many people create solutions and seeing the different paths they’ve thought for my project of is absolutely amazing. I’ve seen my it grow from an being an idea to become physical entities.

I’ve also made new friends for life. Each one of the MCOY recipient’s stories shows you a different aspect of military life. But we all have felt that sense of being alone sometimes, and that’s when we have to lean on each other.

To nominate the terrific military child in your life,
go to www.militarychildoftheyear.org and click Submit Here.

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Happy Holidays!

The holiday season can be overwhelming with the many events, parties, shopping and gifts that seem to take away from its true meaning of giving. Now that I have kids, it’s important to me and my husband that we start to teach them early what it means to give back, especially when it comes to our military community.

Below, you’ll see several ideas to help you get involved this holiday season but anything that helps is a worthy idea in my opinion. Happy giving!

Holiday Meals for Military 

This yearly program from Operation Homefront distributes ready-to-go holiday meal kits to military families and includes everything needed for a traditional holiday meal. Since 2009, the program has fed more than 90,000 military families and continues to grow each year. Get inspired with photos from past events and help by making a small donation at the Operation Homefront donation page.

Holiday Toy Drive 

I’m sure some of us feel that we can all do with less toys in our lives but for those families who struggle with the expectations of gifts during the holidays, toy drives are the perfect way to pass along the spirit. Operation Homefront’s Holiday Toy Drive is an easy way to do a little good for the next kid. The program collects toys and distributes them at a participating event on base. Learn about how you can get involved at: https://www.operationhomefront.org/holidaytoys.

Consider a Monetary Donation 

We all lead hectic lives, so sometimes it’s just easier to contribute monetarily. Operation Homefront makes it super easy with their Current Needs list, a running list of critical requests for help made by military families across the country. Your donation can help a family pay utility bills, support medical expenses or even pay rent. I love the transparency and that I can see where donations are going. Check the Current Needs page for more information.

Organize a Bake Sale 

Something about the holidays gets me in the baking mood! Instead of doing it alone, think about organizing a bake sale on your base instead. It’s a fun way to connect with other parents in your community, get the kids involved, try different recipes and enjoy delicious treats at the end! A total win-win. You may even want to check in with your local commissary to see how they can help with the cost of ingredients and supplies.

Operation Homefront and Procter and Gamble are proud to partner together to serve America’s Military families.

About Start Strong, Stay Strong: Start Strong, Stay Strong enables military families like yours to connect with your best allies—each other. We’ll help you create the stability, connections and comfort in your military community that you and your family deserve.

About Melissa Stockwell: Nothing is harder and more rewarding than being a military mom. This is something American war veteran and Paralympian Melissa Stockwell knows well. After losing her left leg in combat in 2004 as a 24-year-old first lieutenant, the lifelong athlete and patriot knew should couldn’t stop there. She turned her years of hard training and dedication to para-athletics, and in 2008 earned a spot on the U.S. Paralympic Swim team. She competed for the first time as a Paralympian in Beijing, China. This commitment and new path started a journey that eventually led her to become a three-time world champion Para-triathlete, earning the Paralympic Bronze Medal in 2016. She then went on to co-found Dare2Tri, a nonprofit organization that introduces people with disabilities to the sport of triathlon. However, has been nothing compared to the joy and reward of Melissa’s biggest accomplishment—becoming a mom. Her two kids Dallas and Millie motivate her to continue to dream big and inspire her to serve as a role model so that one day they too will learn to discover their own dreams.

Whatever type of mom you are, Melissa helps us see that all moms are on a mission, together. Visit Melissa’s Corner and join today!

Inspire!

Melissa has inspired military spouses across the country at Operation Homefront events like Homefront Celebration and Star-Spangled Babies showers

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What to know before you go

Buying a car is often the second biggest purchase a person can make, second only to purchasing a home. Yet, the process can often be rushed and the buyer at a disadvantage. With the holidays around the corner, and dealerships flooding the internet and airwaves with end-of-the-year sales ads, we asked caseworker Tonya Cooper for tips and tricks for buying a car.

Ask yourself some questions. Why are you buying this car? Is it a want or a need? The point is to really examine why you are making the purchase and look at how it fits into your budget. And be sure to look at how you will be using the vehicle. Is it just for one person to get back and forth to work or is it a family vehicle? Looking at what you need will help you narrow down your options.

Research, Research, Research: Knowledge is power, Tonya said. “You don’t ever want to walk into the dealership and give the dealer all of the power. You don’t want to walk in and say sell me a car. Ideally you know exactly what you want and exactly what you want to pay for it.”

She recommends the sites Edmunds.com and Truecar.com as ways to do most of your research. You need to know your budget, the market standard for the vehicles you have chosen, and your financing options. Let’s tackle those one by one.

Know your budget. To help with budgeting, financial counselors recommend that cars take up no more than 20 percent of your gross income, that is including fuel and insurance. Understanding gas prices in your area and knowing the gas mileage capability (like 21 miles per gallon) of your car is important for your budgeting purposes. Of course, this also depends on the rest of the household expenses. To help with budgeting, use the Edmunds.com affordability calculator. Overall, Edmunds.com has several calculators that can help you decide, including a “gas guzzler trade-in” calculator.

Learn market standards. If you know what the market standard is for the vehicle, then it is easier to know if the dealership is selling at a good price. Edmunds has true market standard listings. This is what the vehicle retails for, on average, at the dealer.

Financing options. Always secure financing before going to the dealership. The best places to go are your bank and possibly a credit union. They are the ones who will give the best interest rate. By having financing secure, this ensures that you will not go over your budgeted amount. It also helps you negotiate the total price of the car because you do not need the dealer’s financing. Keep in mind, just because financing is secured does not mean it has to be used.

 

Test Drive. So, you did your research, you have your financing, and now you are ready to go pick out your vehicle. Be sure to test drive. And then walk away, Tonya said. “The biggest thing I can stress here is don’t buy on the first trip to the dealer. Go home and sleep on it.”

Bring a friend or use a car-buying service. You know the car you want and now it’s time to buy. If negotiating makes you uncomfortable, bring a friend or trusted loved one to the dealership. Bounce ideas off them and ask them to help you stick to your financing and plans. Or, use a car-buying service, which takes your information and sends that to dealers who will then contact you. The prices are already lower so when you get the retail price, no need for haggling.

Beware filler! Extended warranties; windshield, dent, and tire protection, are all what Tonya calls “fillers” that are just another way for the dealer to make a profit. And if you do decide to sign on the dotted line always read the fine print first.

A tip on trade-ins. Always negotiate the trade-in value separately. A used car’s worth is easy to find by using Kelly Blue Book, Edmunds and Truecar.com. If the dealer’s offer is too low, try to sell privately, or check in with a car reseller like CarMax. Most states have information online at the department of motor vehicles sites. Ideally, the money made form a private sale will go straight to the down payment of your next purchase.

Even with the best laid plans, emergencies can happen, and help is needed. As a caseworker for Operation Homefront’s Critical Financial Assistance program, Tonya has worked with service members and veterans who have needed help paying for bills, such as car payments. To learn more about the CFA program and Operation Homefront, click here.

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vickie at baghdad sign

Operation Homefront Communications Manager Vickie Starr

With 84 percent of our staff either veterans or coming from a military family, the 100th anniversary of Veterans Day resonates at Operation Homefront. 

From our top executives, to our staff working throughout the nation, and from our board members to our volunteer brigade (more than 4,500 strong with 56 percent being service members or military spouses), Operation Homefront understands the sacrifices made by our country’s military families.

We asked one of our own to tell us, in her own words, about serving our country.

Operation Homefront Communications Manager Vickie Starr, veteran, US Air Force November 1978 – August 1987; US Army May 1990 – 1993 

I have several immediate thoughts when I think of Veterans Day. The first is the overwhelming support that the American people showed to military troops during the Gulf War in 1990-1991. As part of the 786th Transportation Company, an Army National Guard unit in Lucedale, Mississippi, we were activated in November 1990. As we made the drive from Lucedale to Fort Stewart, Georgia, we encountered many people waving miniature flags as we passed by. Whenever the convoy stopped, people voiced their support of us, America, and the U.S. military.

When we returned from our deployment to Saudi Arabia in May 1991, I was once again overwhelmed by the support—this time from Vietnam veterans and the local Bangor, Maine community.  We were, by far, not the first troops to return from Desert Storm—the first in country were the first out. Yet, when our plan landed in Bangor for refueling, at 3:00 a.m. (as in early, early pre morning), this Mississippi Army National Guard unit was met by a group of local Vietnam veterans. These Vietnam veterans wanted to make sure that all military troops were welcomed back to the United States. They had also convinced members of the local community that getting up at 2:00 a.m. to welcome soldiers back to the United States at 3:00 a.m. was a great idea. At that point, I really knew that being a member of the military was being a part of brotherhood, and I would always have a connection to this select group of individuals.

A few years after Desert Storm, I got together with a fellow soldier and attended the Laser show at Stone Mountain, Georgia. As the night fell, the show began which was military themed. Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” played across the loudspeaker as the American flag wavered against Stone Mountain. Each branch of the military was recognized, and the veterans in the audience were asked to stand. I had never considered myself to be more patriotic than anyone else, but in that moment I had an overwhelming sense of patriotism, an overwhelming sense of pride, and a few tears. When Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Some Gave All” played a few minutes later, the tears did not stop. The cost of freedom is never free, and we must always remember those who walked before us, and that “All Gave Some and Some Gave All.”

That same support from the American people, that I witnessed firsthand in 1990, is what allows Operation Homefront to accomplish all of the many things we do for today’s veteran and military families. Our supporters give of their money, time, and goods, which we must always be thankful for – they are our cheerleaders. The other driving force is the “brotherhood of the military” (please note that as a female the brotherhood is meant to be inclusive of all). People associated with the military want to help each other as witnessed by my encounter with the Vietnam veterans in Maine. Operation Homefront helps veteran and military families because many of us have a tie to the military, and we want to give back to our brothers and sisters, who will in turn pay it forward and give back to others. And the pride and patriotism keeps all of us going when the days are long and things seem to go wrong. Patriotism reminds us that some of our veterans, our military, and their families made the ultimate sacrifice, while others are living with their sacrifice daily.

Join Operation Homefront in recognizing the 100th celebration of Veterans Day through our Raise Your Hand campaign. Click here to learn more.

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Response to our 2019 Back-to-School® Brigade program was phenomenal. Read about how we are making a difference in the lives of military families, all thanks to our partners, volunteers and supporters like you:

Nearly 30 minutes before the start of Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School® Brigade (BTSB) event in San Antonio, a line of families started at the gym doors inside a local YMCA and snaked all the way out of the building.

Meanwhile, an army of volunteers, Operation Homefront employees and partners like Chobani and H-E-B made the necessary last-minute checks. The face painters were ready, the photo booth filled with props and more than 500 backpacks were stacked and ready to go.

The San Antonio event, which provided 500 backpacks, was one of nearly 100 BTSB events held across the nation throughout the summer. With the help of our corporate partners, donors and legions of volunteers, the events were estimated to provide over 40,000 kids with backpacks.

 

Volunteers from H-E-B helped make the day special for military families. Operation Homefront is proud to partner with H-E-B for BTSB as well as our Holiday Meal for Military program.

 

We were excited to host the team from Chobani at our San Antonio BTSB event. Chobani is donating $500,000 to help provide food for veterans and their families via Operation Homefront, and also matching donations—up to an additional $250,000!

Once the doors opened, the families filed through the gymnasium, gathering information on various resources from all the different booths and of course picking out a purple, pink, or clear backpack before leaving with smiling faces.

Good times!

 

 

The San Antonio event, which provided 500 backpacks, was one of nearly 100 BTSB events held across the nation throughout the summer. With the help of our corporate partners, donors and legions of volunteers, the events were estimated to provide over 40,000 kids with backpacks.

Sailor Natalie Larenas attended the event for the first time, bringing her two sons, one in fourth grade and the other a freshman in high school.

“I had no idea there would be so much stuff here,” she said. “There was a lot of things the kids could learn about, like PTSD and education resources.”

Having been in the Navy for the past 14 years, Natalie said she appreciates that there are donors who give to Operation Homefront to help military families.

“Thank you!” Natalie said. “The families who serve sacrifice a lot and when there is something like this, we feel appreciated. It’s really nice. I really appreciate this, especially with three kids. I get emotional because I have served so many years and sacrificed time, just being away from my family. That’s why this is so nice. It tells me that we are appreciated too.”

From L-R, clockwise: An OH volunteer and service member at the BTSB event in Colorado Springs, CO; OH CEO John Pray (second from left) volunteers at the BTSB event in Clarksville, TN; A soldier fills a backpack at the BTSB event at Camp Murray, Tacoma, WA; A boy gets his face painted at the BTSB event in Clarksville, TN.

Since BTSB began in 2008, more than 375,000 military children have been provided with backpacks filled with supplies, helping them have the tools they need to succeed for the school year. You can see photos from our events on our Flickr page.

Operation Homefront Program Coordinator Rebekah Reyes said the Alamo City event could not have happened without the volunteers and partners. “I want to thank all of our donors and our volunteers who came out to support”,” Rebekah said. “(At the event), we had about 150 volunteers help us from the set up to clean up. They really helped make the event run smoothly.”

Team work makes the dream work.

Cathy Toyoda was one of those volunteers. She’s been volunteering with Operation Homefront for more than two years, currently in the donations department but has helped at several BTSB events.

“You know, military families, most of them, are on a tight budget, and buying school supplies is very costly,” she said. “It’s wonderful that people donate to this (Back-to-School Brigade) event by giving all the school supplies and the back packs and it’s really wonderful to give them away to people who need them.”

Cathy Toyoda has been volunteering with Operation Homefront for more than two years. It’s wonderful that people donate to this (Back-to-School Brigade) event.”

Talia Farrell was at BTSB for the first time. She and her husband Troy, who is in the Air Force, brought their two kids, Jordan and Jayda, in kindergarten and third grade respectively. She said the kids had a great time and the family was surprised at all the goodies. She hopes to return in the future.

This was Talia’s family’s first time at BTSB. This is beyond our wildest dreams. We truly appreciate it. This is something we all benefit from and it’s very, very necessary.”

“This is a great opportunity for military families,” Talia said. “This is beyond our wildest dreams. We truly appreciate it. This is something we all benefit from and it’s very, very necessary.

Back-to-School Brigade 2019 has concluded, but we have many more opportunities for military families in the coming months. Keep an eye on our events page for when registrations open.  If you would like to get involved as a volunteer, this page has everything you need to get started,

Chobani has been an incredible supporter of Operation Homefront’s mission. Chobani is donating $500,000 to help provide food for veterans and their families. And for every dollar you donate, Chobani will match your donation—up to an additional $250,000.

Finally, a special thanks to our national sponsors, Dollar Tree and SAIC, for their ongoing support of Back-to-School Brigade and many other Operation Homefront programs.

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Four-year-old Jaxon Crouse ran from room to room of his family’s new home pointing out his favorite features.

“Look, the refrigerator has a water thingy!”

“There’s another closet!”

Jaxon, everyone would come to learn, really likes closets.

Jaxon, really likes closets.

Jaxon really likes closets.

He and his family were seeing the house for the first time during Operation Homefront’s “Welcome to the Community” ceremony in Helotes, Texas held on Thursday, May 30, as part of the organization’s Transitional Homes for Community Reintegration program.

As part of the program, the Crouse family—retired Army Sgt. Michael, his wife Michelle, and their three children, Jaxon, daughter Penelope, 6, and newborn son Greyson River—will live in the newly built, rent-free house for two to three years as they work with financial counselors and caseworkers to build savings, reduce debt, and develop a strong transition plan so when they leave the program they can buy their own home.

Operation Homefront launched THCR in August 2018. Made possible by a generous investment from the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation and support from The Home Depot Foundation and others, the program was designed as a gateway for stability to help veteran families remain strong, stable and secure as they transition from military service. The program will soon have eight properties in five states.

The THCR program is made possible by a generous investment from the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation and support from The Home Depot Foundation and others.

Operation Homefront Chief Operation Officer and retired Brig. Gen. Bob Thomas thanked donors like Centex Homes, Inc. a division of PulteGroup, and spoke of the importance of stable housing for families leaving the military. “Housing is a center of gravity,” he said. “It is an enabler. We want [the families] to get involved in their community and help ease their transition.”

“Housing is a center of gravity”-Bob Thomas, Operation Homefront Chief Operating Officer, Brig. Gen., USAF (Ret.)

Having grown up in a military family, this is Michael’s first house that has not been a rental. He is looking forward to learning more about maintaining the property, paying off debt and adding to their savings. He also will be closer to his job at Wells Fargo, although he does hope to switch careers after getting his bachelor’s degree in environmental science from UTSA. Michelle wants to enroll at UTSA after she gets her associate degree in early childhood education. She has been home-schooling Penelope and Jaxon, but they are now signed up in Northside Independent School District.

Last year, the family found themselves scrambling when an unexpected medical diagnosis forced Michael to retire from the Army after nearly 15 years of service. They were told the separation process from the military would take six to eight months and were shocked when after only four months they received notice around the Christmas holiday in 2018 that Michael would no longer be in the military.

Michelle was pregnant with Greyson and the family was worried and anxious. They did not have savings and had not had the opportunity to line up housing. They found relief through Operation Homefront’s transitional housing programs—first moving into the San Antonio Village and then being accepted into the longer-term THCR.

“It’s really life changing,” Michelle said about the programs Operation Homefront’s donors support. “It’s not just about writing a check. You are really changing our family’s lives for the better. And even setting up our children for success because if we’re successful we pass that on to them. And it’s not just debt. It’s very exciting and very touching to us.”

“You are really changing our family’s lives for the better”-Michelle Crouse

They knew they wanted to come back to the San Antonio area because that is where Michelle was born and raised. Her family attended the ceremony and in true San Antonio fashion, Michelle’s sister Emily brought homemade cookies and their mom, Janie, brought tres leches cake.

Janie and Michelle’s dad Daniel both said they were eager to have their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren closer to them. They live about 15 minutes away from the Helotes house.

“We get to see Greyson as a little baby,” Janie said. “We didn’t see Jaxon or Penelope as newborn babies. I think Penelope was six months and Jaxon maybe three or four months. Now they can have our help and we can babysit.”

“And they can do grandparents day at school,” she added.

Little Greyson and his brother and sister will be able to visit with their grandparents more, which is priceless.

As everyone filtered through the house, Penelope caught her brother’s closet-fever and invited her aunts and uncles into the upstairs room she declared as hers. “Look at this closet it’s so big,” she could be heard telling her family. Both Janie and Michelle’s sister Emily joked that with the spacious kitchen and big backyard, it was now Michelle and Michael’s turn to host the family get-togethers and holiday meals. Michelle and Michael were all on board.

“We’re extremely grateful and happy,” Michael added. “We want to thank Operation Homefront and the Clark Foundation. This is an amazing opportunity for us.”

“We can’t wait for everyone to see us in three years; in two to three years and see everything we accomplished,” Michelle added. “We won’t let you all down.”

Learn more about our Transitional Homes for Community Reintegration programApplications are currently being accepted for a THCR home in Weeki Watchee FL.

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by Robert D. Thomas, Chief Operations Officer, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.), Operation Homefront

Today, we remember and honor our service members.

On Memorial Day, our nation remembers and reflects upon the loss of the service members who have had a profound impact on preserving the freedoms we enjoy daily. By honoring the memory of their service, we sustain the spirit of these fallen heroes. And, we also remember their families, who sustained their service.

When I think about the heroes we have lost, I also think of the time lost with their families. I think of the incalculable value of eating an ordinary family dinner together, watching your son or daughter play soccer, or taking a child fishing. For those deployed, and those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, that time is lost forever; they will never get those moments back and neither will their families.

Reflecting on my 31-year Air Force career, and the friends I have lost in the service, brings Memorial Day into sharp focus for me. My military specialty was air mobility, and when I was not flying transport/tanker aircraft, I was the officer on staff responsible for the air mobility mission.

bob-thomas-operation-homefront-memorial-day-fallen-heroes

During multiple deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries, among other duties, I would many times find myself part of the team responsible for transporting our fallen heroes back home one last time. The units would honor their lost comrade in a solemn ceremony, almost always at night to avoid the rocket or mortar fire large groups of soldiers attract, and end with a member of the unit answering “absent sir” as the fallen warrior’s name was called in a final unit roll call.

Often, and especially on Memorial Day, I think of the families of those heroes and what it would be like to get the devastating news that a mother, father, son, or daughter was gone forever, and how many lives were changed permanently at that moment.

All Americans can take part in honoring those we have lost by joining the national moment of remembrance. You can participate by pausing for a moment of silence at 3 p.m. local time on Monday afternoon.

In memory of those we have lost, and in honor of those who proudly serve, please join me in standing with our nation’s military heroes.

With heartfelt gratitude,

Robert D. Thomas
Operation Homefront Chief Operations Officer
Brig. Gen. (ret.), USAF

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